FL Amendment 4’s Exclusions Remain Unclear

Forgiving interpretations of ballot language say only those convicted of first-degree murder still face a lifetime voting ban, but lawmakers say the details of exclusions get dicey.

The Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative, better known as Amendment 4, specifically excludes those convicted of murder. But there’s significant disagreement about what that means, Florida Politics reports.  Forgiving interpretations of ballot language say only those convicted of first-degree murder still face a lifetime voting ban. But a broad reading of Florida’s homicide statutes includes those convicted of, say, partial birth abortions.

Neil Volz, a board member with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, testified Tuesday before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee that drafters of Amendment 4 intended to exclude those convicted of first-degree murder. The intent, he said, was only to leave out felons convicted of the most severe crimes. The amendment also excludes those convicted of felony sex offenses. But Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews said Florida’s murder statute covers a much wider range of crimes. The chapter of law includes everything from doctor-assisted suicides to partial birth abortions, both second-degree felonies. Nearly 65 percent of voters in November approved restoring voting rights for felons, but lawmakers say the details of exclusions get dicey.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Shutdown Cuts Services in Domestic Violence Shelters

The partial federal shutdown has led organizations that help victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse to cut back on lifesaving services, furlough staff and turn people away from shelters. Many groups are reliant on federal funding that is scheduled to stop on March 1.

Weeks after fleeing an abusive relationship, a 49-year-old woman in West Virginia was ready to move out of a shelter and into a trailer with a security deposit provided by a nonprofit organization that relies on federal funding. The partial government shutdown scuttled her plans to start a new life, reports the Washington Post. The Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center has cut all extra spending and client expenses to prepare for the Justice Department’s freezing of its stream of federal grant money. The center’s ability to help domestic violence victims pay for prescriptions was gone, and home visits to people in rural areas were canceled. There could be no more free rides for women to get to new jobs, leading to one woman’s firing.

The shutdown belt-tightening meant the woman who escaped to West Virginia from Baltimore would no longer get help with her trailer’s security deposit, meaning she continues taking a spot at the shelter while more than two dozen women seeking refuge from potentially dangerous situations sit on a waiting list. The shutdown has led organizations that help victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse to cut back on lifesaving services, furlough staff and turn people away from shelters. Many groups are reliant on federal funding that is scheduled to stop on March 1. While many Americans have not yet experienced a direct impact as a result of the government shutdown, at domestic violence shelters, any interruption of funding could cut off services that keep female victims and their children safe from potentially fatal violence. Shelters can provide escape at perilous moments; having to turn people away can be a matter of life and death.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Biden Apologizes for His Tough-on-Crime Laws

Former Vice President Joseph Biden conceded that a bill he backed that enacted much tougher penalties for crack cocaine offenses than powder cocaine “trapped an entire generation.”

Former Vice President Joseph Biden said Monday he made a mistake in supporting tough-on-crime drug legislation in the 1980s and 1990s, citing a bill that created different legal standards for powdered cocaine and street crack cocaine, the New York Times reports. “It was a big mistake that was made,” Biden said of the measure, which was criticized as disproportionately affecting blacks. “We were told by the experts that “crack you never go back,” that the two were somehow fundamentally different. It’s not. But it’s trapped an entire generation.” Biden, who is deciding whether to run for the presidency, is assessing what hurdles he faces in an increasingly progressive party.

The former vice president appeared with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Washington, D.C. While both men have been criticized for their mixed record on issues of racial equality and criminal justice, the two took different approaches to explaining their record. Biden, who helped pass a 1994 crime bill that is cited as having led to an era of mass incarceration, stunned the audience when he flatly admitted that he “may not have always gotten things right” in regards to criminal justice. Bloomberg avoided a mention of his controversial “stop and frisk” tactic, which gave police officers sweeping powers to detain those suspected of committing crimes, particularly in neighborhoods that had predominately nonwhite residents. Civil rights attorneys applauded Biden’s admission that his past actions on criminal justice were flawed. Biden’s comments were“appropriate and necessary. It was refreshing,” said Kristen Clarke of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

from https://thecrimereport.org

California and the Death Penalty

The nation’s most populous state has been a trailblazer in justice reform, but it lags behind others in its failure to abolish capital punishment. Gavin Newsom, sworn in this month as the new governor, could change that, writes a reform advocate.

On Christmas Eve, outgoing California Gov. Jerry Brown reduced the prison sentences of 131 people in California and pardoned another 143, giving them a far better chance to reintegrate into society.

The move tops Brown’s already record-breaking number of pardons and commutations and other policy changes he championed, all of which were aimed at rethinking a justice system that Americans widely agree needs an overhaul.

Indeed, there is a growing recognition across the country that mass incarceration and racial inequity in the justice system are among the most urgent issues of our time. Brown should be applauded for the steps he took to address these issues.

But the governor missed a critical piece by leaving the death penalty off his Christmas list.

In doing so, he sent a clear signal that California lags behind the national trend to end capital punishment. Now it’s up to his successor, Gov. Gavin Newsom, to finish the job.

Brown’s inaction is confusing because the death penalty is already on its last legs across the country. Eleven states have either ended or suspended the death penalty in the last 11 years. The most recent, Washington State, came just months ago when its highest court ruled that racial bias was so ingrained in the process as to make it unconstitutional.

States from New Hampshire to Louisiana to Utah have taken significant strides, and 2019 is shaping up to be another big year for states seeking to end this antiquated practice.

On the other hand, California has the largest death row in the nation—nearly 740 people, more than three times the size of Texas’ death row. California’s death row ballooned in much the same way that its prisons did, during an era when the death penalty was on the rise.

Many of the people awaiting execution would likely not be sentenced to death today, yet they have languished on death row for decades. Many were young people at the time of their crimes and are now aging, but desperate for any opportunity at rehabilitation. The death penalty offers nothing of the kind.

Instead it represents the lack of hope or opportunity for rehabilitation that Brown celebrated in granting his commutations last month.

Like Gov. Brown, I have met or heard from many people who have committed violence and later turned their lives around. What has become clear to me again and again is that most people don’t commit violence unless they’ve been exposed to it before – as victims, as witnesses, and so often as children. California’s death row is rife with such people.

The Death Penalty Information Center just published its 2018 report and found that 72 percent of those executed this year suffered a dramatic impairment – significant evidence of a mental illness; some element of brain damage or disability; or chronic, serious childhood trauma.

Those on death row are often poor or people of color and have faced the most daunting challenges. We marshal all of society’s resources to kill them after they harmed someone else, but what if we had dedicated just a fraction of the effort to prevent the violence in the first place?

Trauma, Chronic Poverty and Racism

Trauma begets trauma, and communities plagued by chronic poverty, racism, police violence, and mass incarceration experience that trauma at the highest levels. The communities most harmed by violence are very often the same that get swept into the criminal justice system. One of the cruelest aspects of executions – and the way we respond to violence overall – is how we betray our most vulnerable people.

We have all the tools we need to address their trauma and start breaking the cycle of violence and retribution that has become our nation’s shameful legacy.

Gov. Brown took powerful strides to right those wrongs throughout his two most recent terms.

“From my background, I do believe that redemption is an essential element of being human,” Brown told the San Francisco Chronicle recently.

There was wisdom and humanity in these most recent commutations. That reasoning should be extended to people who receive death sentences. Gov. Newsom now has an extraordinary opportunity.

Shari Silberstein

Shari Silberstein

By commuting the sentences of these 740 women and men, or imposing a moratorium on executing them, he can create a new legacy that pulls California and the U.S. ever closer to a new era for justice.

Additional Reading: Jerry Brown’s Criminal Justice Legacy: ‘It’s Called Hope’

Shari Silberstein is executive director of Equal Justice USA, a national leader in the movement to transform the justice system from one that harms to one that heals. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

More Post-Secondary Education for Inmates Would ‘Cut Recidivism, Reduce Poverty’

Restoring access to Pell Grants for post-secondary education in prison would also increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated people across the United States by nearly 10 percent, says a new study.

Restoring access to Pell Grants for post-secondary education in prison would also increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated people across the United States by nearly 10 percent, says a new study.

Providing opportunities for post-secondary education for prisoners is also likely to reduce recidivism rates and save an estimated $365.5 million a year in incarceration costs for states, concluded a study released jointly Wednesday by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.

The so-called Pell grants to post-secondary education programs in prison were sharply scaled back by Congress in 1994 in a reflection of  “tough-on-crime” attitudes that perceived such grants as coddling of criminals.

But the study says that research shows that giving inmates access to post-secondary education is critical to reducing mass incarceration, lowering recidivism rates and ensuring public safety.

“This relic of the ‘tough-on-crime’ era has resulted in long-term negative consequences for all of us…as well as lost economic potential for individuals, families, and communities,” said Vera Institute president Nick Turner,, and Georgetown Center director Peter Edelman in their introduction to the study.

“It’s time we repeal the ban and create a more restorative justice system that increases safety and produces better and more cost-effective outcomes for everyone d break the cycle of poverty that comes with it. “

The study found that 64 percent of incarcerees in federal and state prisons had achieved a GED or high school diploma, making them academically eligible to enroll in a postsecondary education program.

Some limited post-secondary education is available through the the federal Second Chance Pell program, but  only 9 percent of incarcerated people completed a postsecondary program while beind bars in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.

The study estimated that if the congressional ban were lifted, about 463,000 incarcerated people would be eligible for Pell Grants.

The study was prepared by Patrick Oakford, Cara Brumfield, Casey Goldvale, and Laura Tatum of the  Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality; and Margaret diZerega and Fred Patrick of the Vera Institute of Justice.

The full study is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Shutdown Affects Prosecutor Training, Immigration Courts

The 24-day-old partial federal shutdown is hobbling enforcement efforts across the government. The Justice Department cancelled a training session on the “dark web” and immigration courts have drastically cut their workload.

The 24-day-old partial federal shutdown is hobbling enforcement efforts. halting power plant and oil well inspections, slowing financial fraud probes and tax audits, thwarting plane crash investigations and delaying a probe into Facebook’s privacy practices, reports Politico. The resulting pileup could take months to untangle after the shutdown ends. The shutdown forced the Justice Department to cancel a training session for prosecutors about online markets on the “dark web” where criminals trade in narcotics, child pornography and other illicit goods. The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section was scheduled to host the Dark Market and Online Investigations Seminar from Jan. 8 to 10. The seminar, which was to be held at DOJ’s National Advocacy Center in Columbia, S.C., would have included briefings by FBI agents and federal prosecutors involved in takedowns of major markets. Without this training, one employee said, prosecutors “may not have the knowledge they need to effectively investigate crime ranging from computer intrusions to child pornography to the sale of narcotics and more.”

Federal immigration courts have drastically reduced their workload as most of 400 judges have been furloughed, said Ashley Tabaddor of the National Association of Immigration Judges. That will add to the court’s growing case backlog, which stands at more than 809,000, says to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. As many as 100,000 people waiting for a court hearing could be affected if the shutdown continues through the end of the month. Judges who hear cases of detained migrants have continued to work without pay. Judges who handle the “non-detained docket” have been furloughed. Judges who preside over non-detained dockets, including certain requests for asylum, can involve waits of several years, which mean a canceled court date can’t easily be placed back on the calendar.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Barr Will Call Completion of Russia Probe in ‘Best Interest’ of Americans

William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, will tell senators Tuesday it is “vitally important” that special counsel Robert Mueller be allowed to complete his Russia investigation.

William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, will tell senators Tuesday it is “vitally important” that special counsel Robert Mueller be allowed to complete his Russia investigation, the Associated Press reports. “I believe it is in the best interest of everyone — the President, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people – that this matter be resolved by allowing the Special Counsel to complete his work,” Barr will say, according to his prepared remarks.

william barr

william barr

Barr also says it is “very important” that Congress and the public be informed of the prosecution team’s findings. “For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law,” Barr will say.

He said he will base his judgments on the Mueller report “solely on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decisions.”

Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation tore the Senate Judiciary Committee apart. The panel is trying to put itself back together before a contentious fight over Barr’s nomination, Politico reports. Its new chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), denounced Democrats in Kavanaugh’s hearing on sex assault allegations. The panel includes three Democrats mulling a 2020 presidential run. Graham must set the tone, and he’s not making promises.

“I’m going to let it be up to [Democrats]. You pick these fights at your own peril. [Barr will] be challenged for sure. Hopefully respectfully,” he said. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said,

“I guess the question we all have is, ‘Is this going to be Kavanaugh 2.0?’ Where it’s really not about the search for the truth, it’s more about character assassination.”

Barr will struggle to attract Democratic votes but can be confirmed without bipartisan support.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Shutdown Squeezes Law Enforcement, Threatens US Security, Agents Say

The association representing agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned that a prolonged shutdown threatens to compromise national security

Federal law enforcement agencies that keep Americans safe are starting to feel the strain of the partial U.S. government shutdown, in its 21st day, with agents working for no pay and investigations delayed, according to law enforcement officials, Reuters reports.

Earlier, the association representing agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned that a prolonged shutdown was threatening to compromise national security.

The FBI Agents Association called for an end to the ongoing partial government shutdown, warning that the lapse in funds is unsustainable,  and urged Congress to pass appropriations for the Department of Justice as soon as possible, Politico reports.

FBI agents, along with more than half a million other federal employees, are set to miss their first paychecks on Friday because of the shutdown. The group sent a letter arguing that “financial security is a matter of national security.”

“As this moves forward, it’s only going to get worse,” Thomas O’Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association, told CBS. “People are nervous, they’re upset and they’re worried about when is the next paycheck going to come in.”

There are similar concerns within other federal law enforcement agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Sources tell CBS News morale is “horrible.” Commanders are having to weigh financial constraints before approving certain sensitive undercover operations.

“You know the old adage, ‘crime doesn’t pay’ … and neither does the federal government. That’s not right,” O’Connor said.

“We still have a responsibility for going after those who might be using this time to flood the streets” with drugs, a DEA field agent told Reuters, asking not to be identified by name.

The partial shutdown shows no signs of ending any time soon as negotiations between Democrats and the White House over the issue of funding for border security remain at an impasse.

While House Democrats aim to pass individual spending bills that would reopen more of the government, Republicans have largely stood with President Trump in opposition to a piecemeal approach without concessions from Democrats.

The letter from the FBI agent group undercuts Trump’s argument that large parts of the federal workforce support his push for border wall funds, even if it means the government shutdown persists.

The agents warn that resources for FBI investigations are running thin. Financial uncertainty caused by the possibility of future shutdowns could affect the agency in the long run by deterring prospective agents from joining or causing current agents to seek employment in the private sector.

See also: Shutdown Called Absolute Disaster for Federal Prisons

from https://thecrimereport.org

Broward Sheriff Vows to Fight Ouster Over Parkland School Shooting

Scott Israel charged the decision to remove him as sheriff was all about “politics.” His replacement will be Broward County’s first African-American sheriff.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, criticized for his office’s inadequate response to last year’s Parkland, Fl., school shooting, plans to fight  the decision to remove him from office, claiming he is a victim of “politics,” reports The Miami Herald.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended the two-term Democratic sheriff Friday, citing the conclusions of a state panel’s investigation of the Broward County agency’s response to the Feb. 14, 2018, shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, said The Herald, CNN and other news outlets.

The panel found that several Broward deputies failed to run into the building to try to stop the gunman — or were slow and inadequately trained to confront the killer and stop him.

The governor’s action came three days after he was sworn in, and fulfilled a promise he made during last Fall’s election campaign to remove the sheriff.

Israel was replaced by Gregory Tony, a former Coral Springs, Fl., police sergeant with a background in active-shooter training, who will be the county’s first African-American sheriff.

Israel’s lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, said that not only would Israel fight the governor’s order, but he would run for re-election when his term ends in 2020.

“There certainly were mistakes made,’’ Kaplan said. “But in every situation we can always identify things that could be done better…it does not in any way rise to the level to single out Sheriff Israel and hold him accountable for what happened.’’

Appearing later at a meeting with reporters, Israel made clear he saw himself as a victim of political scapegoating.

“Sadly, this is not about what occurred on Feb. 14 [2018],’’ he said at a news conference at New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. “The governor promised as a candidate — well before he had any facts about the investigation, well before the commission even began their work — that he would remove me from office.”

Israel added: “Today he merely fulfilled a campaign promise. This was about politics — not about Parkland.”

After expressing his sympathies for the families who lost loved ones in the mass shooting, Israel insisted he had not failed in his duty.

The ousted sheriff said there was no “wrongdoing” on his part.

“I served the county honorably and I will continue to do that,” he said.

The new sheriff, who now lives in Boca Raton, left the Coral Springs Police Department after 12 years in 2016, the South Florida.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Laws Restricting Opioid Care Undermine Efforts to Curb Epidemic: Study

Allowing nurse-practitioners more “independence” in prescribing opioids to treat patients could play a key role in curbing the opioid epidemic, according to a University of Alabama study.

Allowing nurse-practitioners more “independence” in prescribing opioids to treat patients could play a key role in curbing the opioid epidemic, according to a University of Alabama study.

Scope of Practice (SOPs) laws in many states restrict nurse practitioners— often the primary providers of health care in rural and under-served communities—from prescribing  opioids for treatment of patients without the supervision of a physician.

But such laws are counter-productive and may even “undermine patient safety,” concluded the study by Benjamin J. McMichael, an assistant law professor at the University of Alabama’s Hugh F. Culverhouse Jr. School of Law.

McMichael analyzed over 1.3 billion individual opioid prescriptions, representing about 90 percent cent of all opioid prescriptions filled at outpatient pharmacies between 2011 and 2017, to examine the impact SOP laws have on the quantity of opioids prescribed by both physicians and NPs.

Although SOP laws are strongly backed by the American Medical Association, among other groups, as a way to ensure patient safety, McMichael said he found no evidence to suggest that opioid patients’ health was compromised by NPs in states where such laws were not in existence.

In fact, he argued, the tendency of NPs to prescribe smaller doses or fewer prescriptions when they were not bound by what doctors ordered may be a significant factor in the successful treatment of addiction.

According to the data, the overall amount of morphine “milligram equivalents” prescribed by all providers during that period actually decreased slightly—by 1.2 percent— during that period.

“The clear majority of evidence demonstrates that granting NPs independence reduces the use of prescription opioids across three different measures of opioid prescribing,” wrote McMichael, in a working paper, entitled “Scope-of-Practice Law and Patient Safety: Evidence from the Opioid Crisis.”

He added: “Allowing NPs to practice independently, if anything, reduces the use of opioids, consistent with an improvement in patient safety, given the demonstrated harms associated with recent levels of opioid prescriptions.”

NPs are registered nurses who have undergone additional training to provide healthcare services historically provided by physicians, the study noted. In general, NPs may evaluate patients, provide diagnoses, offer treatment, and prescribe medications.

State scope-of-practice (SOP) laws—a subset of the occupational licensing laws that govern NPs and many other professionals—determine what services NPs may provide and the conditions under which they may provide those services.

Another significant effect of granting NPs more independence is lowering healthcare costs, McMichael noted.

McMichael cited other studies that have demonstrated that granting NPs more autonomy “can result in lower healthcare prices, increased access to care, and improved quality of care.”

“While SOP laws are not generally mentioned in the debate over the opioid crisis, the results… suggest that changing how the healthcare workforce is regulated via SOP laws could play a role in mitigating the effects of this crisis,” he wrote.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 40 Americans died each day from a drug overdose involving a prescription opioid during 2017.

Additional Reading: Can We Help Opioid Abusers Without Jailing Them?

A full copy of the report can be downloaded here.

Megan Hadley is a senior staff writer for The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org